Wrestling

DEREK CLARKSTON/Kodiak Daily Mirror

 J.C. Aragon wears a mask during a Kodiak High School wrestling practice in March.

A decision by Kodiak Island Borough School District Superintendent Larry LeDoux to start the school year with universal mandates met with resistance Monday night from resident Katrina Virgin.

Virgin, a dental hygienist who said she wasn’t anti-mask, anti-vaccine or anti-science, said the Board of Education should have consulted with parents and students before issuing the mandate.

“He asked four employee groups if they supported the decision,” Virgin said. “Where were the parents? Why weren’t they asked?”

LeDoux made the decision on Aug. 4 after consulting with the district’s classified and certificated groups, as well as its medical advisory board. The decision falls in line with the recommendations from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding masks in schools.

Virgin said she understood there were still concerns associated with the pandemic, and was aware of the most recent wave. However, she said the symptoms were much more mild than they were a year ago.

Referencing the CDC, Virgin also said that “the flu is worse for children under the age of 18 than what COVID-19 is, and it’s been that way since the beginning.”

“It is not disastrous for our children and for those over 12; we have done a phenomenal job in Kodiak of getting vaccines into the arms of those who wish to and want to have it,” Virgin said. “It is readily available but some have chosen not to get it — that is the risk they assume and take.” 

Virgin serves as president of the Alaska Dental Hygienists’ Association and has attended policy meetings and been in contact with top Alaska health officials.

The CDC comparison between COVID-19 and the flu states that for young children, especially those under 5 years old, “the risk of serious complications is higher for flu compared with COVID-19.”

The CDC also cautions that “serious COVID-19 illness resulting in hospitalization and death can occur even in healthy young children.”

Teens and adolescents with COVID-19 are more prone than younger children to contract a rare condition called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (or MIS-C), which seriously inflames the organs. The CDC said the rare condition is linked with youth who have had COVID-19

Virgin said the mask mandate could play a role in declining mental health, an important part of public health.

“We know here in Kodiak that mental health is a huge problem,” Virgin said, adding that COVID mitigation plans have caused an increase in mental health issues.

“We can’t see each other’s faces or get positive feedback by smiles,” she said. “Our kindergartners cannot see their teachers’ faces without sweat and saliva in the teachers’ masks.”

Virgin said word pronunciations also become obstructed by masks.

“Mental health of our students is more important than the adverse effects of COVID-19 for our children,” Virgin said.

LeDoux stood by his decision. He said while the decision was made in consultation of others, it ultimately fell to him.

“Part of the problem is that there is so much information coming out that people don’t know what to believe,” LeDoux said. 

Sometimes, he said, there isn’t enough available information and a position has been made based on the unknown.

“My position is that when you don’t have a preponderance of knowledge and you have to be responsible for 2,500 kids and staff, should you take the most risky decision or the safest decision for kids?” LeDoux said. “I will always take the safest decision. When I don’t have all the facts or there is unknown or conflicting information, we’re going to decide on what’s safest for kids.”

As a trained scientist, LeDoux said he listens to everyone and reads every email. “But when all is said and done we’re going to pick the path safest for kids.”

LeDoux said the district’s current COVID-19 mitigation plan has paid off, but he acknowledged the discomfort associated with masks.

“I don’t like wearing masks, and I don’t know any students or staff who do. But hopefully the contagion will start going the other way,” LeDoux said. LeDoux has noted that if the current wave in the community declines, the district may fall back to its original plan, with masks optional for secondary school students and staff.

LeDoux also said he won’t make vaccinations a requirement for students or staff.

“It is a very, very personal family decision,” LeDoux said. “I wish the entire community were vaccinated because it would help keep schools open, but I wouldn’t require it of my staff because it’s again a personal decision.”

Board members showed support for LeDoux’s decisions.

“As a board member, a community member, parent and grandparent I support Dr. LeDoux in every decision he has made,” Judy Carstens said. “In general he has the support of many people. I do understand concerns, but as I said I do approve.”

Board chair Julie Hill said concern for students’ physical and mental health have been discussed multiple times. She said the district is revamping its health curriculum to help address students’ mental health needs.

“The pandemic is just one portion of that, and we are concerned with the whole kiddo,” Hill said. 

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